Crocodilians, including both crocodiles and alligators, are well-known for their strength and vicious nature. They are also ugly animals with bumps all over their bodies. If you ever get a chance to take a close look at their jaws (with a strong barrier between you and the animal) notice the small pimple-sized bumps on the animal’s jaws. These are not just ugly spots to make them look more grotesque and frightening. Research has shown that these bumps are part of a highly sensitive system designed to help them find food and to know what is going on around them.
Scientists found that the bumps are connected to a nerve called the trigeminal nerve through holes in the bones of the jaw called foramina. It was obvious to the researchers that these bumps were not just cosmetic, but served a major function for the animal.
Experiments have shown that the bumps on crocodilians are sensors that detect any change that happens in the water where the animal lives. When you put your hand into the water, the ripples that are sent out make the nerves in the bumps on the crocodilian’s jaw activate and the animal comes to see what caused the ripples. When scientists cover the bumps with an insulating material and ripple the water, the animal makes no response.
Humans have skin that tells us when the wind blows, when something touches us, and the nature of the material touching us. Crocodilian skin is very different from ours so they need a whole different sensing system to tell them what is around them and to help them find their food.
Who would have thought that these ugly bumps could have a survival purpose? Every time we learn something new about the design of living things we marvel at the work of the Designer.
Smithsonian, May 2003, page 22.
“alligator,” “crocodile,” “trigeminal nerve,” “foramen,” Wikipedia
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